“I hear her voice, in the mornin’ hour she calls me.
Radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling
I should have been home yesterday, yesterday. Country roads, take me home
To the place where I belong…” (1971) “Country Roads” Recorded By: John Denver Composers: Taffy Nivert Danoff, Bill Danoff, John Denver
There is just something very special about the backwoods roads, unpaved, rocky, and winding. Of course, if you’re lost, it’s not so special. However, it brings thoughts of peace, tranquility, and comfort. They are so worth the drive onto an unbeaten path. Even more so, if the country roads take you to loved ones, so precious and dear.
Earlier today, an old fond memory just popped into my head from out of the blue. It’s a memory I have not played through my mind in many years. Does that happen to you?
When my mom remarried back in 1965, I was five years old, a wonderful, historic Texas family came with the union. The Brown family, who I am so very proud of to this day. My dad adopted me, changing my name to Brown, and I am so proud of it. My new dad’s family was large in number, a bit on the stoic side, and scattered throughout Young County in west Texas, about 2.5 hours drive west of Dallas. Suddenly, I had many aunts and uncles, and a slew of cousins. Graham, Texas is the county seat, and the general location of the Brown family. Because I have written before concerning the area, the family homestead, and the pioneering family that they are, you might already be a bit familiar with the rich history of my family there.
The nucleus of the large God-fearing clan was my Grandpa and Grandma Brown (Bessie and W.R.) They both were children of Civil War Confederate soldiers. In fact, my great-grandpa, Lewis Pinkney Brooks (Grandma’s dad) was one of the first settlers to the area shortly after the war ended. He came to the area from Georgia on a mule, or donkey, depending on who you ask.
If you have seen the Paramount TV series, “1883”, then you have a taste of what Texas was like during those days of the untamed west. In fact, my great Grandpa Brooks would have been a contemporary of the Duttons, the two main characters in the storyline of the television show. So, my grandparents were not only raised by pioneers, but had firsthand knowledge of the happenings of those days. The family homestead is built just off the Brazos River in what is known as, Upper Tonk Valley, (Short for the Tonkawa tribe who lived there). As a kid, I was mesmerized by their recollections of their parents, the area, and the early days of being homesteaders.
Anytime we drove out to Graham to spend the weekend with my new grandparents, it was always something I was excited about. I was a city kid. Most of the family lived out in the country, outside the city limits of Graham, Texas. My grandparents didn’t live in the old family homestead, (An uncle resided there at the time.) Their old house was about 5 miles south of the homestead. It sat about a mile off the state highway on a red sandy dirt road among the creeks, mesquite trees, and cactus. There were horses to ride, cows to feed, creeks and rivers to explore, and pastures to run.
Photo; An old abandoned barn, a couple of miles down Tonk Valley Road.
Of course, there was refreshing rainwater to drink right out of a round tin washtub. That’s right. The water from the faucets came from wells which had a strong sulfur, mineral smell. Some got adjusted to it, as they were raised there, but not me. I couldn’t stomach the water, unless you boiled it first. So, my Grandma had a large metal washtub under a downspout off the corner of her kitchen. When full of rainwater, it was brought in where it sat next to her side kitchen window. It had its own ladle. I was always surprised how cool it was to the lips. You didn’t stir it because you didn’t want to bring up the sandy grains of residue resting at the bottom of the tub. But, on a hot summer Texas day, that water was the best tasting H2O I have ever allowed down my gullet.
Although they had an old TV from the 1950’s, they didn’t watch much of it. My Grandpa Brown was a busy farmer, among other things. There were expected pre-dawn sounds of heavy slurping coming from the living room, where I slept on a daybed. Opening my eyes, there he would be, sitting in a chair, in his pinstriped overalls and boots, facing the stove (if winter), or facing the window listening to the first coos of the morning doves, with a bowl and saucer of coffee. No coffee cup for W.R. Brown. I never really understood it, but that’s how he rolled. Afterwards, he was off to his crops close to the banks of a sandy-bottom creek down by the horse pasture. However, I rarely went back to sleep as Grandma’s freshly baked homemade yeast rolls were wafting through the early morning air. Nothing could beat her jarred preserves on the table, and buttered rolls fresh out of the oven. Oh, my! Recently, while visiting my 91 year old aunt, she showed me grandma’s old baking sheet which she used to bake her biscuits and rolls. It literally had holes in it from decades of wear. I sniffed of the old worn pan, but there wasn’t even a hint of bakings past.
Around mid-late afternoon, you could count on the folks sitting out on the wooden plank front porch. They had two or three metal lawn chairs, the kind that bounced a bit, almost like rocking chairs, and usually a couple of old wooden chairs with rope weave, or wicker weave seats were brought out from the dining room. Grandma had the usual large clay pitchers of cool tea made from her rainwater tub, sitting out for anyone who wanted to fill their tall glasses. The ice cubes were there waiting in an aluminum bucket, and tea spoons at the ready. Before you can ask, yes, it was sugar tea. Before I was 15 years old, I didn’t know unsweetened tea existed.
Now, you would think, sitting next to elderly folk, with heavy west Texas accents, along with iced tea in hand, out on a front porch looking out at a red dirt country road, would be something only Rip Van Winkle would enjoy. NO WAY! I can’t tell you how much I learned about west Texas history, family history, and life out on the prairie. Sure, there was a lot of chatter about politics, preachers, and current news items of the day, but I was okay with that, too. You know why? Because I knew I was in the presents of greatness, salt of the earth people with dirt under their fingernails. The front porch was what they did for leisure. When family and friends came to visit, they knew to pull up a chair, fill their glasses, and bring up some fat to chew on. Much joy and information was to be had on that front porch of the Brown’s house.
My Aunt Ina Dell’s rendition of Grandma & Grandpa’s house.
As a pick-up truck would drive by from time to time, the driver would wave at the folks on the porch, and a warm kind acknowledgement was exchanged. It seemed everybody knew everybody in the community, especially on the old Lower Tonk Valley Road.
After Grandma’s larrupin’ dinner, often other family members would come over and we would gather around the slightly out of tune upright piano to sing old hymns. (At the church, the Brown family practically filled the choir loft.) This was a very memorable time as we gathered for what they called, “The Singin'” complete with full harmonies, and old dusty hymn books from a box an uncle would deliver. After about an hour of melody-making, many of us returned to the front porch with tall cold glasses of sweet tea. I was always amazed how DARK it was out in the country. Depending upon the time of year, or weather, we would watch the fireflies dancing around in the front yard for a natural light show. A few of us cousins were given mason jars to do some firefly hunting. It was so much fun. We would chase them around, often bumping into one another in the process, with the sound of the tin jar lids clanging on the glass. Some took their captives home, but I didn’t have the heart for firefly prison. I was happy to let mine go free.
The marriage between my mom and dad only lasted about four years. However, they were terrific, adventurous years for me when at the age of 5-9 years old, I soaked up incredible life-long memories so very worthwhile. The Brown clan continues to be my family today. They are great people.
Grandma and Grandpa Brown have long vacated this earth, but their laughter, voices, and hugs in the pages of my memory, continue to deliver unanticipated smiles on my face. The old house is gone, as well. In the early 1980’s, after my Grandma passed away, after my Grandpa died in 1977, the old place was removed making room for a new house built on the spot by a dear cousin of mine. He and his family have lived on the land ever since. I still drive by there now and then.
Not a lot has changed there over the last six decades, with the exception of a partially paved stretch of road which has taken the place of Young County red sandy dirt. Often I will pull over in an unpopulated spot of Lower Tonk Valley Road, stop the engine of the car, and close my eyes to capture the familiar sounds of the place of old love and wonder. When listening close, one can hear the doves, roosters, and the bellows of the Longhorns close by. Somehow, I tend to leave there with a hankering for a tall glass of iced tea.
In the hustle of today’s schedule and the glow of the screen from the cell phone, a trip back to more innocent days can be as refreshing as a tin washtub of cool rainwater.
We all understand thirst when the heat is overpowering. It’s a craving, especially for cool water for the tongue and throat. It’s so easy for the imagination. Also, we all have a thirst within our natural man/woman, where the hunt for quenching begins, often pulling us to a whirlpool where we don’t belong. The smell of it is distasteful and sour, but unfortunately we, along with our society, grows accustomed to it in our daily choices. Away from the public faucet of such, is prepared a pure reservoir, filled with cool, clear water for the soul. The purity of it pushes down the sediment of the day. A drink to be trusted. A drink to quench deeply. A drink which quells everlasting.
Maybe for you, it might be a quick return visit with the Fount Of Every Blessing found in fuel for the race.
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – Jesus John 4:14 (ESV)